|Wednesday, 16 June 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 3, No. 34, 99-02-18
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 3, No. 34, 18 February 1999
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT LIFTS FORMER MINISTER'S IMMUNITYDeputies voted by 102 to one on 17 February to lift the parliamentary immunity of former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, AP and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Addressing the parliament before the vote, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian said he has sufficient information to open criminal proceedings against Siradeghian in three cases involving five planned murders, according to Noyan Tapan. Siradeghian fled abroad on 29 January, three days after lawmakers had refused an earlier request by Hovsepian to impeach him. He is currently believed to be in France (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January and 1 February, 1999). Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian said earlier on 17 February that if Siradeghian's immunity is lifted, he will seek his extradition. LF
 U.S. EXPERTS TO HELP ARMENIAN MURDER INVESTIGATIONTwo FBI officials have arrived in Armenia at the request of the country's leadership to participate in the ongoing investigation into the murder earlier this month of Interior Ministry troops commander Artsrun Markarian, ITAR- TASS reported on 16 February. The same day, the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) and the former majority Hanrapetutiun parliamentary faction issued separate statements saying that the initial hypothesis that Markarian's death was suicide can be attributed to "cynicism" and criticizing the alleged inability of Interior and National Security Minister Sarkisian to prevent crime, Noyan Tapan reported. LF
 ARMENIA'S CHANCES OF WTO MEMBERSHIP ASSESSEDAra Hakobian, the Armenian official who presides over negotiations on Armenia's acceptance into membership of the World Trade Organization, told journalists in 15 February that the favorable prospects for Armenia's joining that organization has been jeopardized by the equivocal policy of the former administration, Noyan Tapan reported on 17 February. Armenia's new leadership has reaffirmed its eagerness to join the WTO, Hakobian added. Prime Minister Armen Darpinian said in November 1998 that he believes Armenia will join the organization no later than July 1999. LF
 RUSSIA TO STRENGTHEN AIR DEFENSES IN ARMENIASpeaking on his arrival in Yerevan on 17 February, Russian Air Force Commander Colonel-General Anatolii Kornukov said Moscow has begun delivering the components of S-300 air defense systems to its military base at Gyumri, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. Kornukov said the air-defense system currently installed at that facility is obsolete. He further characterized the overall level of armaments in the South Caucasus as "in favor of the states bordering Armenia, not Armenia itself." He said Moscow "would be pleased" if Azerbaijan decided to join the CIS unified air defense system. "Obshchaya gazeta" of 11- 17 February claimed that the deployment of the S-300 systems and additional MiG-29 aircraft is intended to protect Russia's Armenian base from a possible attack by NATO missiles and fighter aircraft stationed at the Incirlik base in eastern Turkey. LF
 TURKEY CONCERNED THAT CAUCASUS MAY BECOME 'MANEUVERING ZONE'Meeting on 16 February in Ankara with his Azerbaijani counterpart Tofik Zulfugarov, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said "we are anxious about the recent arms proliferation in the Caucasus. We don't want the region to become a maneuvering zone for larger countries. The Caucasus belongs to the Caucasian countries, and it should remain like that," according to the "Turkish Daily News" on 17 February. Cem said the close relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan constitute a base for peace and stability in the region. Zulfugarov, on a two-day official visit to Turkey, was also scheduled to meet with President Suleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to discuss the Karabakh conflict and the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. LF
 U.S. UPBEAT ON AZERBAIJAN EXPORT PIPELINE...Stanley Escudero, the U.S. ambassador to Baku, told Turan on 17 February that "great progress" has been made in the past few months toward an agreement on construction of the Baku- Ceyhan oil export pipeline. Escudero said that talks between the governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey and the oil companies engaged in exploiting Caspian oil are continuing, and he predicted that a final agreement on financing that pipeline will be made by the end of the summer. Anatolia News Agency reported on 17 February that two intergovernmental agreements between Turkey and Azerbaijan related to that project are expected to be signed in March and ratified within 90 days by both parliaments. LF
 ...WHILE OIL COMPANIES UNENTHUSIASTICRichard Oliver, managing director of BP Amoco, the senior partner in the first and largest international consortium to begin developing Azerbaijan's Caspian reserves, has said that the Baku-Ceyhan project is not currently needed, given that two pipelines for exporting Azerbaijan's oil already exist, Bloomberg reported on 17 February. He added that there is "no need" for an early decision to proceed with construction of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ENDORSES PLANNED TRANS- CASPIAN GAS PIPELINEHeidar Aliev has agreed to a formal request by his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, to route the planned Trans-Caspian gas pipeline to Turkey via Azerbaijan, Reuters and Turan reported on 17 February. Meeting with Aliev the previous day, Yossef Maiman, chairman of the Israeli company that is helping to form a consortium to build that pipeline, said the U.S. Ex-Im Bank will contribute approximately $1 billion toward the estimated $3 billion construction costs. LF
 MORE AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS SENTENCEDA Baku district court on 17 February handed down sentences of two to three years in prison to 15 opposition activists, AP and RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. The activists had participated in a banned opposition rally in Baku on 8 November, which was forcibly dispersed by police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1998). Several of those sentenced were found guilty of resisting arrest. Also on 17 February, the newspaper "Halq," which is published by the president's office, reported that Azerbaijan Popular Front Party Chairman Abulfaz Elchibey has announced his candidacy in the 2003 presidential elections, according to Turan. LF
 KARIMOV DECLARES DAY OF MOURNING...Uzbek President Islam Karimov has declared 18 February a day of mourning for the victims of the bombings in Tashkent two days earlier, RFE/RL corespondents reported. ITAR-TASS reported on 18 February that 45 of the more than 150 people hospitalized have returned home, while 12 remain in critical condition following "complicated" operations. Fifteen people were killed in the explosions. Meanwhile, Halle Degn of the OSCE told a news conference in Tashkent on 17 February that Uzbek security agencies have apprehended five people in connection with the terrorist act. Several news agencies quote Karimov as saying that "if necessary, we will cut off the hands of those responsible" for the bombings. BP
 ...REPORTS ECONOMIC FIGURES FOR 1998President Karimov addressing the cabinet on 17 February, said GDP increased by 4.4 percent last year, industrial output by 5.8 percent, and agricultural production by 4 percent, Interfax reported. Monthly inflation stood at 1.9 percent, and the Central Bank's monthly refinancing rate stayed below 3 percent. Retail trade was up by 14 percent and consumer goods output by 7.2 percent. Foreign investment last year totaled $1.3 billion, a 22.6 percent increase over 1997. Karimov noted that the government hopes that this figure will increase to $2 billion in 1999. The foreign trade surplus reached $240 million, which contributed to augmenting foreign currency and gold reserves. Karimov, however, did not give a figure for hard currency reserves. BP
 MYSTERY ILLNESS CLAIMS 350 LIVES NEAR TAJIK- AFGHAN BORDERAn illness reported to be "unknown to modern medicine" has claimed the lives of 350 people in the area along the Tajik-Afghan border over the past two weeks, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus reported on 17 February. The illness has affected mainly young children and the elderly. Since the start of 1999, 203 cases of typhoid have been reported in the southern Tajik city of Kulyab. BP
 KAZAKHSTAN COURT RULES AGAINST BRITISH COMPANYKazakhstan's Supreme Court has ruled that Britain's Trans-World Group caused "considerable damage to Kazakhstan's economic and financial interests," Interfax reported on 17 February. According to the court, the British company is responsible for losses totaling $145 million at the Aksu Ferroalloy Works, $102 million at Aluminum of Kazakhstan, more than $86 million at the Ferrokhrom ferroalloy works, and some $40 million at the Sokolov-Sarbai Mining Production Association, Kazakhstan's leading producer of iron- ore products. The court has already declared agreements with the British company to be invalid. BP
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS ECONOMY NEEDS MORE FOREIGN INVESTMENTAskar Akayev told a 17 February meeting of the Advisory Council on Investment Policy that the country's economic stability this year depends on the level of foreign investment, Interfax reported. Akayev listed five main goals aimed at attracting foreign investment. First, improving tax legislation for both local and foreign businesses and establishing a special board at the Tax Inspectorate to concentrate on deals with foreign companies. Second, liberalizing legislation on foreign investment. Third, reforming the judicial system to ensure the legality of deals between state agencies and foreign producers (according to Akayev, the country has too few lawyers with expertise in interpreting the Civil Code). Fourth, limiting the interference of administrative bodies in the activities of foreign companies. And fifth, setting up free trade zones in the country. BP
 KYRGYZ INCREASE SECURITY ALONG BORDER WITH UZBEKISTANOn the orders of President Akayev, security measures along Kyrgyzstan's border with Uzbekistan are being increased following the terrorist bombings in Tashkent on 16 February, RFE/RL correspondents in Bishkek reported. In some areas, roads leading from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan have been closed. Akayev also ordered Kyrgyz security forces to cooperate fully with their Uzbek counterparts. BP
 KURDS DEMONSTRATE OUTSIDE GOVERNMENT BUILDING IN BISHKEKSome 150 Kurds demonstrated outside the government building in the Kyrgyz capital to urge President Akayev to appeal to Turkish leaders for clemency toward captured Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Sulhadin Kasymov, chairman of the Nyshtyman Kurdish Association in Kyrgyzstan, said there are currently 30,000-40,000 Kurds living in Kyrgyzstan. BP
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 BRITIAN REPORTS SOME MOVEMENT IN KOSOVA TALKS...British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said on 17 February that some progress has been made by Serbian and ethnic Albanian delegates at peace talks in Rambouillet, France, but that the delegates must hurry to come to an agreement by the 19 February deadline, Reuters reported. Cook said "there is some movement, but [it] needs to pick up a lot of speed." Cook and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, met with the rival delegations separately. The two sides also held face-to- face talks for only the second time during the 12 days they have been in France. (See also Part I for Russian comments.) PB
 ...STRESSES NEED FOR PEACE-KEEPING FORCEBoth Cook and Vedrine repeated that an international peace-keeping force will be necessary in Kosova to uphold a political agreement. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has rejected such a force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999). Cook said the "accord proposed by the Contact Group, both the political and the military dimension, is clearly the only way to respond to the ...worries of both sides." The Serbian paper "Glas Javnosti" reported on 18 February that the ruling Socialist Party will accept a foreign presence if it does not include Americans or soldiers from countries with a "negative attitude" toward Yugoslavia. PB
 DRASKOVIC WANTS SANCTIONS LIFTED IN RETURN FOR AGREEMENTYugoslav Deputy Premier Vuk Draskovic said on 17 February in Belgrade that any Kosova peace agreement must include the lifting of all economic sanctions against Yugoslavia and that country's return to international organizations, AP reported. Draskovic said it is "unjust and illogical" for the West to accuse Belgrade of isolationism while at the same time not allowing it to interact with the international community. PB
 NATO OFFICIALS APPROVE DEPLOYMENT PLAN FOR KOSOVANATO ambassadors meeting in Brussels on 17 February agreed to an operational plan to station troops in Kosova to monitor a peace agreement, AFP reported. The next day, two senior NATO officials arrived in Macedonia to discuss with local officials the plans for a possible deployment of 30,000 troops in Kosova. A NATO extraction force is already in Macedonia. Meanwhile in Podgorica, Montenegrin Premier Filip Vujanovic told Belgrade's B-92 radio that his country would allow NATO forces to use the Adriatic port of Bar. He said Montenegro would offer NATO troops logistical support as they transited the republic en route to Kosova. PB
 CROATIAN AMBASSADOR PUSHING FOR NATO MEMBERSHIPMiomir Zuzul, the Croatian ambassador to Washington, said on 17 February that leaving his country out of NATO would add to instability in the region, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Zuzul said Croatia has proven its ability to help NATO build peace and stability in Europe. He noted that Zagreb's most immediate goal is to be admitted to NATO's Partnership for Peace program, adding that Croatia is awaiting a formal answer to the PFP application it submitted more than one year ago. PB
 BOSNIAN CROAT DISCLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR SOLDIERS WHO COMMITTED ATTROCITIESGeneral Timohir Blaskic, a Bosnian Croat accused of war crimes, said he had no real control over soldiers under his command who reportedly committed attrocities in Bosnia in 1992-1994, Reuters reported. Speaking before the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Blaskic said he had not been in a position to give orders, only military expertise. Prosecutors say he sanctioned and organized deadly attacks against Muslims in the Lasva Valley. Blaskic pleaded not guilty to 20 counts of crimes against humanity. PB
 ALBANIA TO HOLD SUSPECTED ISLAMIC EXTREMISTSAn Albanian court ordered the indefinite detention of two men suspected of spying on the U.S. embassy in Tirana, Reuters reported on 17 February. The men, one from Syria and the other from Iraq, were arrested earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 1999). Interior Minister Petro Koci said the two are suspected of setting up an extremist Islamic network in Albania that may have links to terrorist Osama bin Laden. PB
 ROMANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER REPORTS ON CLASHES WITH MINERSConstantin Dudu Ionescu told journalists on 17 February that miners' leader Miron Cozma "manipulated" the miners to serve his own interests and ultimately "betrayed" them by attempting to avoid arrest as his supporters clashed with the police. He said three of Cozma's deputies, as well as Cozma himself, are being questioned in Bucharest by the Prosecutor- General's Office. Ionescu said that earlier that day, one miner died in the clash with the police and some 50 people, 32 of whom were policemen, had been wounded. He said 543 people had been detained by the police for questioning, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Police sources later said that a 24-hour detention warrant has been issued for 46 of the miners questioned. MS
 FURTHER PROGRESS ON LIFTING TUDOR'S PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITYThe Senate's Judicial Commission on 17 February recommended approving Minister of Justice Valeriu Stoica's request to lift the parliamentary immunity of Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor on the grounds of the 11 charges brought by the Prosecutor-General's Office. The plenum of the Senate must now endorse the commission's decision. Senate Chairman Petre Roman said that before submitting the recommendation to a plenary session, the Senate will vote on the commission's recommendation to allow lifting a parliamentary deputy's immunity by a simple, rather than a two-thirds majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 1999). If the simple-majority recommendation is not approved, Tudor is likely to keep his immunity owing to the backing of his own PRM and the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania. MS
 MOLDOVAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE ABANDONS BID TO FORM GOVERNMENTSerafim Urecheanu on 17 February said he has given up the attempt to form a new government. That announcement came after a brief meeting with leaders of the Alliance for Democracy and Reform (APDR), which includes the parties that form the parliamentary majority, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Urecheanu said his decision was prompted by the APDR's rejection of both his cabinet line-up and his proposals that the number of ministers be reduced and he be allowed to choose the ministers himself. President Petru Lucinschi the same day asked the APDR to put forward its candidate for the post of premier within 24 hours. MS
 MOST BULGARIAN DETAINEES IN LIBYA RELEASEDForeign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 17 January announced that 15 of the 19 Bulgarian doctors and nurses detained by the Libyan authorities last week have been released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 1999), Reuters reported. He said a Bulgarian Foreign Ministry mission is flying to Libya on 18 February to secure the release of the remaining four detainees. Vlaikov also said Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova will propose at the 18 February cabinet meeting to sack Bulgaria's ambassador to Libya, Krastio Ilov, for "failing to protect the interests of Bulgarian nationals." MS
[C] END NOTE
 A NEW LEFTIST 'COALITION PARTY' IN LATVIA?By Jan Cleave
An agreement signed earlier this month between Latvian Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans and the Social Democrats may have averted a government crisis for the time being. But the minority government's cooperation with the leftists may cause new problems for Kristopans. More to the point, few in Riga believe it will prove enduring.
After last fall's parliamentary elections, President Guntis Ulmanis asked Kristopans of the centrist Latvia's Way to form a government. Having ruled out cooperation with the right-of- center People's Party, which had narrowly won the ballot, Kristopans opted to set up a minority coalition with the nationalist-rightist Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and the left- of-center New Party. He also proposed offering the Social Democrats the agriculture portfolio in exchange for their support. While the TB/LNNK initially opposed that idea, it eventually agreed, thus paving the way for the recent cooperation agreement and Social Democrat Peteris Salkazanovs's confirmation as agriculture minister.
Under the terms of the cooperation agreement, the Social Democrats assume responsibility for the agricultural sector and will neither vote against nor abstain from voting on any government-proposed bills supported by the Cooperation Council (a consultative body composed of representatives of each of the three ruling parties). They also agree not to submit to the parliament any bills related to the state budget without the Cooperation Council's prior agreement, nor will they support opposition-proposed bills on the budget or taxes. In return, Kristopans agreed that the government will undertake, among other things, completing the pension reform by 2001, increasing the minimum wage, and boosting spending on education and research.
With this agreement under his belt, Kristopans can now look confidently toward the second and final reading of the 1999 state budget, which is expected to take place later this month. Without the Social Democrats' support, his government would almost certainly have fallen: under Latvian law, if lawmakers fail to approve the draft budget in either the first or second reading, their rejection constitutes a vote of no confidence in the government, requiring the cabinet to resign. Shortly after the TB/LNNK had consented to a Social Democrat as agriculture minister, the budget passed in the first reading, thanks to the virtually unanimous support of the Social Democrats. Earlier, the Social Democrats had threatened to vote against the draft, pointing to what they considered insufficient spending in the social sphere and too much on defense.
While relations between the Social Democrats and the two larger coalition parties--Latvia's Way and the TB/LNNK--are likely to prove difficult, the Social Democrats may already have found an ally in the junior coalition partner, the New Party. Last month, that party opposed Kristopans when it came out in favor of a Social Democrat proposal to establish a special commission to investigate activities at the telecommunications monopoly Lattelekom. That move earned the party a sharp rebuke from the premier, who argued that the New Party was breaking the coalition agreement by supporting the opposition. The New Party countered that since a Social Democrat was soon to be appointed agriculture minister, it did not regard the Social Democrats as being in opposition.
It is precisely this perception of a new leftist "coalition party" that may cause fresh problems for Kristopans and Latvia's Way. Since last fall's elections, both the premier and his party increasingly have come under fire for allegedly seeking to improve relations with Russia at the expense of pursuing integration into European and Trans-Atlantic structures.
Kristopans's November interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" asserting that Russian-Latvian relations should be based on the Finnish model caused a stir even before he had been sworn in as premier. The decision to fix 1999 defense expenditures at O.9 percent of GDP, instead of the 1.0 percent foreseen by the previous government, has been interpreted as going back on commitments to seek NATO membership. And accusations have repeatedly been made that leading Latvia's Way politicians are close to the industrial lobby that wants to boost transit trade with Russia--Moscow's price being that Riga back off from bids to join NATO.
While Kristopans has fended off such accusations so far, his cooperation agreement with the Social Democrats guarantees that there will be more such talk. The Social Democrats have made no secret of their coolness toward NATO membership and their preference for larger social expenditures and greater state intervention in the economy. Some observers have been quick to suggest that the leftist orientation of the new cooperation partner may encourage now hidden leftist tendencies within the ruling coalition. Others argue that it is just a matter of time before Kristopans finds himself forced either to make compromises aimed at accommodating the Social Democrats or to sacrifice his newly found "majority" in the parliament.
The TB/LNNK, for its part, has already said that should the government stray from its declared course--seeking EU and NATO entry, passing a balanced budget, and resolving questions related to minority issues--the party will not rule out joining forces with the main opposition People's Party of former Prime Minister Andris Skele. To form a majority government, those two parties would have to seek another coalition partner. But their ability to reach agreement with Latvia's Way, whose leadership has repeatedly clashed with that of the People's Party, is very doubtful.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty